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Report finds changes in the reproductive health of some marine mammals in the UK

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

(523/02 NEWS RELEASE 17 December 2002)

A Report published today has found evidence of changes in the reproductive health of some marine life in the UK, which appeared mainly due to natural and man-made chemicals.

The Report details the findings of a 1.5 million three-year research project - Endocrine (hormone) Disruption in the Marine Environment (EDMAR). The project was a joint initiative between the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Government agencies and the chemical industry's Long Range Research Initiative.

EDMAR was the first large scale, and most detailed, research to establish whether such changes were occurring in marine life, what they were, where they were occurring, what was causing them, and what the consequences were.

The project found that endocrine (hormone) disruption does occur in some marine species in certain locations, but not at other sites and that further work needs to be done to determine why this is and what the consequences are, if any.

The research, which looked at several fish species and some invertebrates in estuaries and coastal waters around the UK, found mainly that:

some feminisation of flounder has taken place resulting in egg protein production in males - but this seems to be declining in some areas;
there were signs of feminisation in blenny fish in some estuaries;
feminisation of migratory salmon and trout does not seem to be a problem;
crabs and shrimps do not appear to show any endocrine disruption effects when exposed to the sort of chemicals that cause feminisation in vertebrates (e.g. fish and mammals).
the key substances implicated as causing the observed effects were natural substances such as the human female sex hormone 17-oestradiol and synthetic chemicals such as nonylphenol.
In order for the research to be carried out, new methods to detect hormone disruption had to be developed. These new methods and the results of the research will feed into future research to explore this issue further.

, the Environment Agency and the water industry are looking into whether there are any implications for sewage treatment processes.

EDMAR was prompted by earlier Government-funded research which raised concerns that male flounders were becoming feminised. For example, in some cases, female ovarian tissue was found in testes and egg protein was being produced. The concern was that this could impact on their ability to breed.

1. A summary of the Report and its findings can be found on the website at

2. EDMAR was built on a former MAFF funded survey of flounder in British Estuaries and coastal areas. This showed effects related to endocrine disruption that were more severe in more heavily industrialised estuaries. The Environment Agency contributed to this work.

3. EDMAR was funded by a consortium comprising , the Environment Agency, the Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research and the European Chemical Industry Council (through their Long Range Research Initiative).

4. The research was undertaken at five UK laboratories: the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) Burnham, Lowestoft and Weymouth laboratories; the Plymouth Environmental Research Centre; the Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies of Liverpool University; the FRS Marine Laboratory Abderdeen and the Astra-Zeneca Environmental Laboratory, Brixham. Associated research was carried out at Glasgow Caledonian University. Professors Jim Redman (Plymouth Marine Laboratory) and John Sumpter (Brunel University) acted as external scientific advisers.

5. During the programme, updates on progress were issued as a series of newsletters and in presentations by researchers at two seminars. Many of the research outcomes have already been published in nine peer-reviewed papers in the scientific press, with several more in preparation. The present report aims to provide a short, non-technical summary of the programme. Hard copies are available from:

The EDMAR Secretariat,
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs,
3/E6 Ashdown House,
123 Victoria Street,
London. SW1E 6DE

CEFIC Contact:
Caroline De Bie
Cefic R&S Communications Councillor
Tel: ++32 2 676 7289

Public Enquiries: 08459 335577